Friday, November 8, 2013

Recantations: Virginias 21 Day Rule

I have previously posted about recantations because of Virginia’s archaic 21-Day Rule law, that a witness /accuser has 21 days from sentencing of the defendant to recant their false claim, any longer than 3 weeks and the State ignores the recant, doesn't investigate and the wrongful conviction stands. 

The below OpEd piece and May 2013 Study on the high rate of recantations being valid, should get the Virginia lawmakers to sit up and take notice on my repeated plea to repeal the 21 Day Rule.


Rob Warden provides a must-read opinion on recantations, November 8, 2013

If you have ever wondered why courts often believe original witness testimony over a recantation and thereby deny a new trial, read Rob Warden’s insightful opinion piece on recantations published in the Chicago Sun-Times (here). 

Not only does Warden explain why Illinois courts have often sided with original testimony, but he also provides ample evidence that this common confidence in an original statement has been upended by numerous cases in which the recantation proved to be the truth. 

Warden, Executive Director, of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law, provides the foundation for erroneous confidence in original testimony, at least in Illinois. An Illinois Supreme Court decision eighty-two years ago included this statement: “Recanting testimony is regarded as very unreliable, and a court will usually deny a new trial based on that ground where it is not satisfied that such testimony is true.” 

Warden points out that the exoneration of Gary Dotson—often referenced as the first DNA-proven exoneration—could have been expedited by four years if Illinois courts had believed the recantation of Dotson’s accuser. 

Citing data from the National Registry of Exonerations, he notes, “Since the Dotson case, recantations in 26 other Illinois cases similarly have proved true — often more belatedly than in the Dotson case…The longest delay occurred in the Ford Heights Four case, in which authorities ignored the key accuser’s recantation for 18 years — from June 1978 until DNA proved it truthful in June 1996.” 

Warden writes that the Illinois Supreme Court now has two cases before it that provide opportunity to correct now-debunked confidence in original testimony over recantation, but even more important, to remind judges that whether the recantation is the truth or not, is not even the question before them. (Again, read Warden’s opinion piece.)

The National Registry of Exonerations has issued preliminary findings on an ongoing study of recantations (here) that should dispel the myth of the sanctity of original testimony everywhere. 

This report indicates that “25% of exonerations include recantations by prosecution witnesses or victims; 82% of these recantations occur in murder and child sex abuse cases. In murder cases, the recanters are usually ‘eyewitnesses’ who were pressured by law enforcement to give false testimony. In child sex abuse cases, most are ‘victims’ who were pressured by family members or child welfare investigators to accuse the defendants of crimes that never happened.” 

Are You Ready for the 2014 Virginia General Assembly Session? Have You Signed Up to Receive Alerts, Action Items and Updates?

The annual Virginia General Assembly is where new State laws are proposed, voted on and passed. 

The 2014 (even year) Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, VA is a long (regular) session, 60 days. This is significant because during a long session more bills are patroned/ proposed as the House of Delegate members are not limited in the quantity of bills they can submit, but they do have a limit on odd-years. 

The 2014 session begins on Wednesday January 8, 2014 but because there is a Governor inauguration and the swearing in of new House of Delegates members so the first week to possibly 10 days of session won’t move along bills that actually change any law, they’ll be mostly ceremonial (a commendation or celebration). The swearing-in of new members will also delay the House Committee assignments which in turn delays Committee hearings on bills. 

Do you know who your current State Delegate and Senator is? 

Is your House Delegate going to change because of the November 5, 2013 election just in time for the next General Assembly? 

If you have a brand new Delegate please contact them BEFORE Thanksgiving, before you get caught up in the holiday season and before the Legislators are too busy preparing for session to respond to you. Introduce yourself, tell them what issues concern you and ask them if they remember the email’s Mary Devoy sent them over the summer about the issues surrounding the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and current sexual statutes. Ask them what they think about these problems. Have your family and friends do the same with their Districts Representative. 

The Delegates-Elect (freshman) will not have official State email addresses or Richmond phone numbers until January 2014 so use this link from the Virginia Board of Elections document or go to their campaign websites for current contact information. 

Delegates and Senators listen to their constituents and they know if you’re a registered voter or not and if you are a voter then they listen much more intently. 

The General Assembly Building is at the corner of 9th St. and Broad St in Richmond, VA 23219, behind the Capitol. 
Senate Legislative Information and Constituent Services    - 804-698-1470 or 888-892-6948
House of Delegates Information and Public Relations           - 804-698-1470 or 877-391-FACT 

You can track proposed bills (legislation) as they are posted and move through the process two ways. 

1.      Virginia General Assembly Website,
                       How to Track a Bill, 
         Sign up for Lobbyist-in-a-Box Service: 

a)      You may track up to 5 bills in one Lobbyist-in-a-Box "profile" without a fee. You can also sign-up for email notification triggered by the bill sponsor when bill is referred to a House or Senate Committee or bill contains specific key word(s), phrases, or Code section(s). 

b)      A subscription to Lobbyist-in-a-Box with an unlimited quantity of bills also offers the ability to create multiple profiles, each containing bill lists and notification options. The cost of this service is $400 for state agencies and $600 for all other subscribers.
Note: I’ve tracked bills, hearings and votes for 5 sessions (2009-2013) without paying for this service. You can stay current and informed without spending this excessive amount. -Mary Devoy 

Email notification triggers an email when bills are sponsored by a member of the General Assembly, referred to a House or Senate Committee or contain specific key word(s), phrases, or Code section(s). 

                  Lobbyist-in-a-Box Guidelines, 
                  Review Past Virginia Sessions (1994-2013) Legislation, 

Sign up now, before session even begins so you can adjust your settings and get used to checking on bills. 

2.      Richmond Sunlight Website 

Usually R.S. starts posting bills after January 1st, on the R.S. website you can post comments publically and you can create your own list of bills to track for no charge. But there is no email notification for bills being posted, assigned to a committee and placed on a hearing docket, any amendments or bill movement. You must remember to check each bill everyday with this site. 

In early December I will create a 2014 Virginia General Assembly page (see Directory on right side of screen) where I’ll post all relevant bills to this platform and I will update the bills daily (hopefully) on this blog.  

Do You Know How a Bill Becomes a Law in Virginia?

Are you ready for the upcoming 2014 Virginia General Assembly session that begins on Wednesday January 8, 2014 in Richmond Virginia? 

Do you know what happens at the annual General Assembly?  It is where proposed State Legislation (bills) are debated and voted on by elected officials and is either stopped mid-way through the process or succeeds and are sent to the Governor to be signed into law or vetoed.

Do you know the process? Here it is:
 * Rules for Delegates and Senators Voting on a Bill:
A Legislator can change their vote for up to 30 minutes AFTER the Sub- Committee or Full-Committee meeting adjourns. So all the witnesses, speakers and the press are gone and a Delegate or Senator can renege on their original vote as long as it does NOT change the outcome.